May 14, 2009

Bully hitting, manage pitching. This should be the credo of every fantasy baseball enthusiast. The standard rotisserie hitting categories are such that at-bats are paramount. The more at bats you accrue, the better chance you have to accumulate those important counting stats of home runs, steals, runs and RBI. There is only one ratio stat on the hitting side of the ledger.

Pitching, on the other hand, is composed of three counting categories and two ratio categories. The only pitching category that can really be bullied is strikeouts. Wins and saves are too fickle. Obviously, the more innings you have, the better chance you have of getting a win or a save, but they are a bit more happenstance than their hitting stat counterparts. As such, you can finesse a pitching staff more than hitters. Furthermore, the pitching pool comprises different types of players that allow you to maneuver efficiently within the five categories. Specifically, the hitting pool does not really have an equivalent to the highly skilled middle reliever.

What we are going to do today is work with this premise. For whatever reason, your normal nine-man pitching staff is down to eight and you need a replacement. We will determine how adding pitchers of different qualities and potential contributions will impact your standings potential. For the sake of this exercise, we will use the National Fantasy Baseball Championship format of 15-team mixed since there is historical standings data readily available. The calculations are straightforward and can be readily transferred to whatever format you wish.

We will go with the assumption you presently have a league average staff, one that will net you eight points, exactly midway in each category. In fact, we will say the first eight pitching spots will continue to perform exactly as they have thus far for the balance of the season. We will then add in several variations of your ninth pitcher to see how each gain or loses you points.

Based on history, in order to score eight points per category in an NFBC 15-team league, you need about 90 wins, 1148 strikeouts, 67 saves, and ERA of 4.05 and a WHIP of 1.33. The average staff pitches about 1,450 innings. This means the average pitcher wins about 10 games, strikes out 128 and saves around 7. Since we are about 20% through the campaign, the average pitcher has 2 wins, 26 strikeouts and 1.5 saves. Using the premise above, our final stats will consist of eight average pitchers and a ninth composed of the partial 20% contribution plus what we are about to acquire. The totals without the additional 80% contribution from the ninth pitcher are therefore about 82 wins, 1046 strikeouts and 61 saves. The 4.05 ERA and 1.33 WHIP remain the same and equate to 1321 innings with 594 earned runs and 1756 hits plus walks.

Here is a table of the pitchers from which we can choose for the replacement spot with their projected 80% remaining contribution.

Here are the final totals including each of our seven pitchers.

And finally, here are the projected points based on historical standings of a league using this format.

The following analysis is specific to this model league. The conclusions cannot be globally applied to every league; it is merely an example of the manner to utilize this data. Your league is probably not 15 teams. You were likely not on a pace to finish exactly in the middle of the pack in each category. And the pitcher you lost was not someone expected to get wins and saves. The important thing is not the exact computation, but the method so you can massage it to be applicable to your situation.

Remember the idea was we were on a pace for 40 points previous to losing the pitcher we need to replace. The bottom line is I need another pitcher. Obviously, if I want to acquire a stud, I am going to need to part with something, namely offense. A top-tier starter can net me 11 points. What will it take to acquire that talent? How many hitting points will be in jeopardy if I make that trade? Ask the same questions for all pitchers that can only be acquired via trade as opposed to being promoted from your reserve or acquired from the free agent pool. In this league, the poor starter, poor closer and top middle reliever may be available on the waiver wire which has to be a consideration, as the cost is solely a portion of your free agent budget or a waiver claim. In the end, you compare the points gained or lost from the new pitcher versus the points lost in order to acquire him.

There is another integral factor to consider. The above was done using the presumption the acquired pitcher does as expected. But what if they do not perform in that manner? What if the stud starter gets hurt? What if the decent starter gets unlucky and wins only five games? A real compelling comparison is the poor closer versus the top set up man. According to this exercise, they both cost your team two points. But what if the poor closer loses his job? You will lose up to five points in saves depending on when that happens. And what if the setup man gets some saves or even becomes closer? You can gain up to 7 points depending on the timing. Again, compare the cost to acquire each versus the risk/reward to decide which would be better. As an aside, this is why in some leagues, the better middle relievers will be rostered while lower-end closers are still available.

So again, try not to get too hung up with the exact series of calculations, it is league dependent. Pay more attention to the general thought process to see how different types of players might help or hurt you. This premise transcends the example defined above. You do not have to actually lose a pitcher. You can do this if you are looking to replace a scuffling performer. You can also apply the same principles to hitting, but as suggested, you do not have the luxury of adding a player for free that marginally hurts your team and could in fact be helpful, namely the skilled middle reliever.

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